Thursday, March 27, 2008


Many people say that the illustrator Willy Pogany (1882-1955) reached the pinnacle of his career with a series of lavish, ornate books including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1910), Tannhauser (1911), Parsifal (1912) and Lohengrin (1913). These books feature spectacular gilt designs on sumptuous leather bindings, elaborate borders on each page, and illuminated initials with hand calligraphed text.

Personally, I find them exhausting.

I don't think Pogany started getting interesting as an artist until he shed all the regal trappings and learned to simplify.

Left alone with just a line and a blank page, Pogany began to produce work of enduring value. Each line becomes more important when you don't have fancy textured paper and intricate borders to rescue (or obscure) the quality of your work.

Here are a few scans of Pogany's original drawings so you can see his line up close:

Even his small, "simple" drawings weren't that simple.

Surrounding a picture with fancy borders can enhance its appearance, but only to a limited extent. Ultimately, the picture pays a heavy price for that boost; it is harder for a picture to achieve greatness when encumbered with ornamentation. One of the most important things for an artist is knowing when to stop.


Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

Those character studies kill!

3/27/2008 6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing. He reminds me a bit of Miyazaki. Miyazaki is also good at knowing exactly where to stop, and he seems to shade in a similar way.

I just want to say how much I appreciate this blog. You introduce us to an interesting variety of artists here. I like how one of the recent posts was about a female artist, because it seems like we're uncommon in this field. It's interesting to see artists who prefer to draw instead of paint (Oberhardt), and others who can produce great works of art without rendering them in as much detail as most people would.

I sometimes feel that I prefer drawing to painting, but other people often don't consider a drawing finished, even if it's a careful drawing.

3/27/2008 8:03 PM  
Blogger Li-An said...

The old men sitting are great. I like the non so realistic way they are rendered.

3/28/2008 4:21 AM  
Anonymous Brad Sturgeon said...

Anonymous, I want to say that as an illustrator and cartoonist, I completely understand that sentiment about the beauty of drawing. David, excellent post as usual, though I can't say I don't enjoy the incredible backgrounds of Rime of the Ancient Mariner at least as much as these foregrounds. ;)

A funny thing about contemporary artists - when I was in a drawing class recently, we watched a public-access television show called "Art 21", which supposedly covers the vast scope of mediums and genres in the modern era. Problem was, there were no illustrators or people who drew as a finished product. Each time someone was shown drawing, it was only as an "under drawing" or a "guideline" and henceforth would be referred to in terms you might label the box your colored pencils come in.

Because as any "quality" contemporary artist knows, drawings are the lowest form of art - mere springboards to the worlds of "real" artistic mediums. Bleh.

3/28/2008 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the Parsifal page best. Great work!

I'm not all that in love with the spare work at all. In Pogany's mind they were studies for a "finished work". Ya gotta respect that. Like a lot of Rubens or Tiepolo drawings, they are nice. We appreciate them. but the finished works are just as good, and in my mind, even better.

3/28/2008 10:10 AM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

I think Pogany's Mother Goose is his best work. Every page is a new surprise- both in the imagery and the layout.

If you don't care for Pogany's elaborate stuff, how do you feel about Harry Clarke's Poe or Kay Nielsen's Seven Dancing Princesses?

Thanks for the wonderful blog!

3/28/2008 6:00 PM  
Blogger illustrationISM said...

Pogany is a master of line(s).

mark jaquette @

3/28/2008 8:02 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Jack and li-an! I'm glad you like them. These originals are fairly small (the sitting figures are not quite 3" tall), so Pogany must have had a good eye and a steady hand.

3/29/2008 11:50 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

anonymous (first one), I know what you mean about Miyazaki. I also know what you mean about female illustrators. There are some great ones I'd like to discuss here, so we'd better get to it. I have confessed in an earlier post that I actually prefer drawings to paintings or sculpture, so I'm glad to hear from another fan.

3/29/2008 12:08 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Brad and anonymous (second one), I appreciate what you are saying about the incredible, ornate work in Pogany's borders and backgrounds. They are very impressive. I certainly believe that decoration can be art, but personally I find more depth and range and nutritional content in the drawings.

3/29/2008 12:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Steve, I do like Harry Clarke's style, but I think other artists with a similar approach (such as Aubrey Beardsley) were able to achieve the same kind of gorgeous decadent excess with more economy of effort. Clarke's work is impressive, but in the end I am never sure the result is worth all that work. (I also think Beardsley's design was superior to Clarke's.)

I've not see Pogany's Mother Goose but you can bet I will go out and find it.

illustrationism, I'm glad you like Pogany's line work. I will show some other, more intense linework the next time we talk about Pogany.

3/29/2008 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a copy of the Tannhauser book he illustrated. It's quite lovely, except for a few poor quality color prints. There's also a book I have called "The King of Ireland's Son" by Padraic Colum with several great illustrations by him (preview it at Google Books.) His figure drawing book I'm not so fond of, except for the drawings.

-DB Clemons

3/29/2008 7:42 PM  
Blogger Eduardo Alvarado said...

I invite you to visit my web and blog of paintings and drawings.
I think you would be interested.
Thank you
Eduardo Alvarado

3/30/2008 2:05 PM  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

my favorite pogany are his metropolitan magazine covers! but i've seem far from all his work. (in fact i think maybe i've only seen the cover of the mother goose)

but in both of these posts, he and degas, it seems the japanese influence was really emerging in their work....

4/05/2008 2:12 AM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

I've posted a big chunk of the Mother Goose book at...

Pogany's Mother Goose Part One
Pogany's Mother Goose Part Two


4/10/2008 12:52 AM  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

oh my lord--those are amazing! thank you so much, stephen!

4/10/2008 8:26 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, I agree with you about Pogany's anatomy book and some of his other "how to" art books. Surprisingly weak.

Thanks, eduardo, I enjoyed your site.

Lotusgreen, always a pleasure to hear from you. I continue to enjoy your blog.

Stephen, I agree that is one great book. Another great service from ASIFA!

4/11/2008 1:56 AM  
Blogger Art By Alida said... your site. I do illustration. I like it that you show fine art and comic book style art. So many fine artists look down upon comic book artists. Visit my site. I'm new. I need some feedback on my art.

5/03/2008 3:01 PM  
Blogger Nick Name said...

I love Pogany's work, and agree with you regarding the opinion that it improved as he simplified. I'm just surprised no one has mentioned from whom he learned simplicity--W. Heath Robinson.

Pogany was never really an innovator, it seems, borrowing first from people like Beardsley and Ricketts and later (heavily) from Robinson. He did always bring his own slant and charm to the work, though.

5/21/2008 1:11 AM  
Blogger mrs. sarah ott said...

I am having so much fun browsing your blog. Pogany is amazing, even the simple stuff as you said is also intricate. You're definetly on my blog roll. I look forward to the material.

6/15/2008 9:22 PM  
Anonymous said...

I grew up in a building in New York City called the Eldorado which has a giant Pogany mural at the back of the lobby. Does anyone know anything about this painting? Is there an image of it anywhere or a story of his work on it? It depicts a large party of people moving slowly and painstakingly over a narrow bridge to a golden city - it's pretty amazing. Just trying to find out some more information.

9/18/2008 1:29 AM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

I have a music sheet for the J. Fishcher & Bro. New York which has an illustration of Pogany done in 1921 for the The Crap-shooters - A Negro Dance. I have not found this illustration listed anywhere. The image has 4 black men shooting craps. I love his work.

10/27/2008 7:43 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Thank you for this post. I'm a painter and a professor at Cooper Union. I've loved the Pogany Homer and Norse illustrations since I was about seven. You're right, I think, in saying that the line work is the best; the economy of the pieces is amazing. Wonder if he learned that from Flaxman (besides, of course, Beardsley). Didn't know about the hotel lobby--must check that out!

4/24/2011 12:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Stephen-- thanks for writing. Always glad to hear from someone at Cooper Union. I fell in love with those Pogany drawings at about the same stage of life that you did, and they are magical for me still.

4/26/2011 12:25 AM  
Blogger Frank Muller said...

I recently discovered Willy Pogany. I agree with you about his spare line work. There is nothing quite like line on paper to bring the imagination alive! I purchased an old copy of "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" that he illustrated. The illustrations are breathtaking. It was published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. N.Y. No date, but looks early 20th century.

5/04/2014 6:26 AM  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

It can be seen here: and possibly elsewhere around town.

Are you *the* Frank Muller?

5/04/2014 7:22 PM  

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